Wisconsin families can’t drink their water. Liquid manure is running into streams, causing massive fish kills and poisoning our aquifers.
And yet, rather than work to improve their manure management practices, the worst actors of the agriculture community joined together to create a lobbying group to fight policies that would protect Wisconsin families.
We know that many – most – farmers work to be good stewards of the land and good neighbors in their communities. Some prominent members of the Dairy Business Association appear to be the bad actors that give factory farms a bad name.
Their violations are many and their political influence is huge. It’s time to call out these illegal polluters. Check out the records of these Dairy Business Association leaders below.
Gordon Speirs, DBA board president emeritus
The DBA’s president emeritus, Gordon Speirs, owner of Shiloh Dairy in Brillion, was investigated by the Department of Natural Resources for a manure run-off violation in June.
The spill drained into Plum Creek in northern Calumet County, which runs into the Fox River. It suffered a fish kill in July after employees at the nearby operation apparently spread “thousands of gallons” of manure on fields just before a rainstorm.
It is impossible to know how much manure ended up in the creek, according to the DNR, but several species of fish were killed off, and water quality remains a problem there still.
Just weeks later, the Dairy Business Association directly influenced the DNR — via Governor Scott Walker — to weaken provisions in a proposed set of groundwater protection rules.
Speirs was never fined, nor was the matter taken to civil court — one of the DNR’s most powerful actions to help reduce these incidents. Speirs donated more than $12,000 to Walker between 2010 and 2015, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Shortly after that, a water-quality study published by Calumet County showed more than one-third of wells tested there contained unsafe levels of nitrates, E. Coli, and coliform bacteria – dangerous, toxic substances directly related to agricultural pollution.
Mike Gerrits, current DBA board member
In 2008, DBA board member Mike Gerrits, owner of Country Aire Dairy Farm in Greenleaf, spilled 20,000 gallons of liquid manure into the East River, another tributary of the Fox River.
A storm water pipe between his manure lagoons broke, discharging manure into a road ditch that flowed directly to the river.
And this wasn’t his first manure spill. In 2014, Country Aire Dairy spilled a smaller amount but the DNR still noted there was public exposure to the discharge. The farm is located in Brown County, near Calumet County.
Jim Mlsna, former DBA board member
Jim Mlsna has had his share of violations. The DNR cited the ex-board member and owner of Ocooch Dairy in Hillsboro, for a fish kill in the Baraboo River after fermented silage seeped from his Vernon County farm in 2011.
He was also subject to an investigation of milk house run-off in 2008. And, in 2006, he was cited for a 4,000-gallon manure run-off violation.
Voluntary compliance has failed
Though organizations like Dairy Business Association, which obviously has some credibility challenges, might contend the DNR’s current system of voluntary compliance is working, it clearly is not.
If these three Dairy Business Association leaders have committed punishable violations, imagine how many are going unreported.
The proof is in the drinking water. In Kewaunee County more than one-third of the wells tested were poisoned, and in Calumet County it is a similar story.
It is time our representatives reject the influence of groups like the Dairy Business Association and acknowledge the impotence of voluntary compliance.